By Sharon Mager
The Baptist Convention of Maryland/Delaware (BCM/D) and The Banquet Network (TBN) will host the 2021 Special Needs Conference June 5 from 8:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. at The Church at Severn Run (TCSR) in Severn, Maryland. This exciting annual conference will be offered both online and in person. Childcare will be available for those attending in person.
“It’s likely that you now have church members with disabilities and special needs,” says Katie Matthews, a TBN coach. “If not, I guarantee you the day will come when someone walks through your door with disabilities. And they will not only need access, but they will need to belong and enjoy the life of the church.”
Start or Strengthen Your Church’s Special Needs Ministry
BCM/D Associate Executive Director Tom Stolle says that those who attend the conference will discover how to include families affected by disabilities. “You will learn to love them and to bring them in and integrate them into the fabric of the church. We (the BCM/D and The Banquet Network) will come alongside you. You don’t have to be afraid. Don’t let the unknown stand in your way.”
The conference, Stolle explains, will motivate and equip church leaders to assess their special needs ministries or to begin such a ministry. “Churches can do this. God wants your church to do this. It is not God’s will that any perish,” Stolle emphasizes. In addition to his role with the BCM/D, Stolle volunteers as TBN’s executive director. The partnership of the BCM/D and TBN expands opportunities for BCM/D churches seeking to fulfill the Great Commission and for TBN’s seeking to start and strengthen special needs ministries.
“It’s going to be a good conference,” Stolle says. ”We’ll have vendor tables offering different services which special needs families can access. Also, families can learn about upcoming events, like an overnight camp for individuals affected by disability and a 10k bike ride and disability walk in the fall.”
Matthews adds, “TBN coaches will be at the conference and attendees can speak to us and make appointments.” Additionally, representatives from CentrePoint Counseling; various medical staff, including an occupational therapist; and representatives from a local equine therapy organization will provide information and answer questions.
Additionally, Stolle says the conference is an opportunity to make connections and to give people hope. “A lot of these families feel insignificant and don’t have hope,” he explains.
Speakers slated to share are Dr. Bergina Isbell, Blake Davenport, Tom Stolle, Michael Crawford, Allison Fournier, Jim McCaffrey, and Katie Matthews.
- Isbell is a Mayo Clinic-trained and board-certified psychiatrist specializing in the clinical treatment of patients with a history of trauma and special needs, including those on the autism spectrum. She and her husband Amir authored “Come to the Table,” a devotional for families affected by special needs and parents of children with disabilities.
- Davenport serves as TBN’s coaching and volunteer coordinator and is passionate about helping churches learn tools for welcoming all people.
- Stolle’s passion for special needs ministry was sparked by his youngest son, Jimmy, a young man affected by autism. Tom passionately serves churches in the area of effective special needs ministries.
- Michael Crawford is a co-founder of TBN. He also serves as the North American Mission Board SEND City Director for Maryland/Delaware.
- Fournier is a military spouse and mom of two. As a mother of a child who has special needs, she desires to help other parents in similar situations. She also serves as “kids leader” at TCSR.
- McCaffrey serves as a TBN board member and is the senior pastor of Gunpowder Baptist Church (GBC), in Freeland, Maryland, and discovered he was on the autism spectrum at the age of 36. He has a deep passion for churches to share the love of Jesus with the disability community.
- Matthews, the mom of a child with special needs, serves as a coach and program manager for TBN and directs the “Bethany Blessings” special needs ministry at Bethany Church in Columbia, Maryland.
Divinely Designed with God’s Purpose in Mind
“In John 9, Jesus meets a blind man, and his disciples immediately default to, ‘what’s wrong with him? Who sinned? Somebody did something bad to inflict this life sentence.’ But Jesus says this happened so the power of God can be seen in him,” Stolle explains.
Stolle acknowledges that these passages are both comforting and painful. “It’s hard to explain.” Stolle shares. But families with special needs challenges understand the array of emotions. “It’s incredibly comforting that God hasn’t forgotten your child, parent, or spouse. There’s a comfort that my son and all of those affected by special needs are divinely designed with God’s purpose in mind.
“But it’s painful. I never would have chosen this life for my child. No parent would. But the power of God is seen in these individuals.”
Reflecting on his and his wife, Shelley’s, discovery of Jimmy’s special needs, Tom said, “I didn’t even know what autism was. I used to be afraid of people with special needs because they were so different.” But God changed Tom and Shelley and now God is using Jimmy as a catalyst to bring transformation to the convention and beyond regarding special needs ministry.
“I would have never have chosen this. Jimmy will never live independently. He’ll never drive a car.” Looking ahead, Tom says, “Without the Gospel, we would be lost. There wouldn’t be anything in the future after I die; this would be all there is.
“My son is profoundly disabled. And the truth is, one day my wife and I will pass away. Without the power of the Gospel, Jimmy’s best hope would be for him to be in the care of someone else who will love him one smidgen the amount we do. Without the Gospel, that’s all there is.”
“But with the Gospel, this fallen world is temporary. God will ensure that Jimmy will find love, comfort, and care long after his parents are gone, and God will provide an eternal resting place in heaven for Jimmy. We will be reunited forever.”
Register online for the conference. There are no breakout sessions due to COVID-19. The cost is $15.